PIL filed in SC seeking formation of a Uniform Policy for giving financial assistance to lawyers in times of emergencies

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is filed in Supreme Court (SC) seeking formation of a uniform policy for giving financial assistance to lawyers in times of emergencies, like COVID-19 and others in future.

Mr. Abhinav Ramkrishna, Advocate and Executive Member of Supreme Court on Record Association filed the petition pointing that Lawyers across the nation have been paying welfare amounts on filing Vakalatnama each time they enter appearance (a substantial amount of welfare stamp is affixed with vakalatnama). It drew the attention of the court towards various welfare schemes announced by several State Bar Councils for providing financial assistance to distressed lawyers. It was found that these schemes are extremely variant in nature. It prescribed certain classifications for extending financial assistance such as years of practice, age, and non-extension of benefit to those who are accessible to income tax, etc[1]. The petitioner stated that all such classifications are ultra vires the Constitution. 

The PIL stated that the government, “which is primarily responsible for the effective establishment of the judicial set up in this country”, has “remained a mute spectator over the trouble being faced by the lawyers”. Petitioner has urged SC to direct Central Government to form a ‘Uniform National Level Scheme’ under Advocates’ Welfare Fund Act 2001, to deal with the present unprecedented situation and other similar situation if arises in future. 

Some of questions laid down by the petitioner are:

  1. Whether or not the decision of the various State Bar Councils to merely extending a paltry sum as a one-time payment for loss of work and income to the lawyers for sustenance, can be termed as dignified treatment and thus violative of Article 21 of the Constitution?
  2. Whether or not in a given situation at hand, can a decision of the state bar councils to put a cap of annual income, as a pre-requisite condition to grant aid and assistance to any lawyer is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution?
  3. Whether a lawyer on the ground of his years of standing at bar or filing of income tax returns can be deprived of the benefit if he/she needs financial assistance?
  4. Whether or not in a given situation at hand, can a decision of the state bar councils be permitted to grant financial aid under the guise of the loan, especially when the fund is to be released from a welfare account?[2]

The petitioner has questioned the reasonableness of classifications such as years of standing at bar or filing of income tax returns as a basis for providing financial assistance by citing examples of various State Bar Councils. Citing the example of Karnataka State Bar Council which decided to grant ‘interest-free loan’, the petition contended that giving the color of debt/loan to the amount given under welfare scheme during national crises is not only against the objective of any welfare act but is like ensuing an insult upon a needy lawyer.

[1]Akshita Saxena, Plea In SC To Draw Up A Uniform Policy For Giving Financial Assistance To Lawyers In Times Of Emergencies. (April 27, 2020) https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/plea-in-sc-to-draw-up-a-uniform-policy-for-giving-financial-assistance-to-lawyers-in-times-of-emergencies-read-petition-155865
[2]Debayan Roy, Govt cannot be a mute spectator to hardships faced by lawyers during a lockdown: Plea in SC seeks uniform welfare scheme for Advocates (Apr 28, 2020) https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/govt-cannot-be-a-mute-spectator-to-hardships-faced-by-lawyers-during-lockdown-plea-in-sc-seeks-uniform-scheme-for-welfare-of-advocates


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